Tuesday, 31 January 2017


Last Friday on My Mind

During the final days of his presidency Barack Obama said that democracy in America is not always a straight ahead proposition. Rather, it “zigs and zags” from time to time. Nobody, but nobody, expected the founding fathers’ noble line to careen off course into a petulant child’s wall scribbling in the space of just one week.

Last Friday the new Commander in Chief closed his country’s borders to Syrian refugees and barred travelers from seven Muslim nations. On Friday too the White House issued its customary statement to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The text failed to mention Jews. A flack sniffed that the intentional oversight was indicative of the new administration’s commitment to inclusiveness, noting correctly that the Nazi mass murder machine did not discriminate. Yet, the statement managed to awkwardly minimize the ‘Final Solution,’ the attempted industrialized genocide of an entire race and faith.

Those are Friday’s facts; there’s no alternative way to spin them. What other shit will shower down from the aerie of the gilded tower of power? The 45th president has another 207 weeks to go in his term. My touchstones are generally literary and so I’m thinking it might be time to reread John Updike’s dystopian ‘Toward the End of Time’ whose narrative begins in the chaotic aftermath of a nuclear exchange between the United States and China. It’s challenging for any progressive individual navigating these early days of 2017 not to feel jittery, out of sorts or mildly paranoid.

Has there ever been an idyll in any era of all human history? No, but there was a gentler time at least in the scheduling of dispatches of despair: the morning newspaper and its afternoon edition; hourly news bulletins on the radio; the evening news; and every Monday the previous week’s events neatly encapsulated in a magazine. The information for those wishing to keep informed was manageable. Today the distorted barrage of news, fake news, opinion and discourse without decorum is relentless. CTRL-ALT-DEL is a futile exercise.

There’s something in the air in the USA. Perhaps dread, perhaps the gangrenous stench of the planet’s singular well-meaning superpower lashing out, half-crazed by self-inflicted wounds. Maybe I’m projecting that because of the shrill cacophony of social media. The good thing about too much information, provided you’re able to distill it, is that it’s potentially useful. Last Friday Ann and I wrapped up the niggling details of an impromptu February visit to New York City. We had a list of suggested hotels supplied by a friend, a frequent business visitor to Manhattan. Our question about each facility was counter-intuitive: Where are they not?

I was last in New York, oh, 35 years ago. The memory that’s never left me was meeting a guy named Clay in a pub which had the same tile floor as the bathroom of the house I grew up in, quarter-sized white octagons offset by blackened grout. Clay had a duck’s ass hair cut and a very cool, ratty leather biker jacket. Outside the joint between cigarettes he sang street corner Elvis, ‘Baby, Let’s Play House’ with the voice and all the moves. Wow. Ann has never been to New York.

Neither Ann nor I are Graham Greene, so overwhelmed with ennui that we need a jolt of danger to feel alive. We do share a prickly, immediate sense that there might be some sort of reckoning south of 49; that a vulgar Midas got his wish and it’s not working out as planned. Meanwhile there might be marches and demonstrations, possibly competing ones. Together we identified what we thought were logical sites for mass gatherings of civil unrest. We booked our room accordingly, that is, a little inconveniently located because we’re not with the program and we aren’t staying long anyway.

No comments:

Post a Comment